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China sets deadline for Tibet rioters to surrender

March 16, 2008

By Chris Buckley and Benjamin Kang Lim
Sat Mar 15, 2008

BEIJING (Reuters) - China set a "surrender deadline", announced deaths
and showed the first extensive television footage of rioting in Lhasa on
Saturday, launching a crackdown after the worst unrest in Tibet for two
decades.

The response came following torrid protests on Friday which flew in the
face of official claims the region was immune from unrest as Beijing
readies to hold the Olympic Games in August.

Xinhua news agency said 10 "innocent civilians" burnt to death in fires
that accompanied bitter street clashes in the remote, mountain capital
on Friday. It said no foreigners died but gave few other details, and
the report could not be verified.

Tibetan law-and-order departments offered leniency for participants who
turn themselves in by Monday midnight.

"Criminals who do not surrender themselves by the deadline will be
sternly punished according to the law," stated the notice on the Tibetan
government Web site (www.tibet.gov.cn). It added that those who "harbour
or hide" them also face harsh treatment.

The government offered rewards and protection for informers.

But a source close to the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile
suggested China's death toll of 10 was not the full story. He said at
least five Tibetan protesters were shot dead by troops. Other groups
supporting Tibetan independence have claimed many more may have died.

The Olympic torch arrives in Lhasa in a matter of weeks.

China has accused followers of Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the
Dalai Lama, of masterminding the rioting, which has scarred its image of
national harmony in the build-up to the Beijing Olympics.

"This was closely planned by the Dalai clique to separate Tibet from the
motherland," said the regional government notice, adding the claim that
the burning of schools, hospitals, shops and houses was "premeditated".

A rash of angry blog posts appeared after China confirmed deaths in
Lhasa and Hollywood actor Richard Gere, a Buddhist and an activist for
Tibetan causes, suggested an Olympic boycott.

"Westerners think they know all about China, telling us that this, that
and the other is bad," wrote one blogger, who listed historical reasons
justifying Tibet's inclusion in China.

Tibetan crowds in the remote mountain city attacked government offices,
burnt vehicles and shops and threw stones at police on Friday in bloody
confrontations that left many injured.

A Reuters picture showed a protester setting afire a Chinese national
flag. Another depicted security personnel shielding themselves against
rocks hurled by protesters. Television footage showed plumes of smoke
rising over Lhasa and buildings ablaze.

Qiangba Puncog, the top government official in Tibet, told reporters in
Beijing that Tibetan authorities had not fired any shots to quell the
violence.

But the International Campaign for Tibet cited unconfirmed reports of
scores of Tibetans killed. John Ackerly of the group said in an e-mailed
statement he feared "hundreds of Tibetans have been arrested and are
being interrogated and tortured".

Danish tourist Bente Walle, 58, said Lhasa was like a ghost town on
Saturday.

"Today Lhasa is completely closed and there is Chinese military all
over," she said, adding that many people were tying white prayer scarves
on doors. "The Tibetans put them on their doors to tell everybody: here
is a Tibetan."

NO CHANGE OF POLICY

The riots emerged from a volatile mix of pre-Olympics protests,
diplomatic friction over Tibet and local discontent with the harsh ways
of the region's Party leadership.

China has chided the leaders of the United States and especially Germany
in past months for hosting the Dalai Lama, saying such acts boost what
they call his "separatist" goals. It has also urged India to stop
protests there by exiled Tibetans.

"We are fully capable of maintaining the social stability of Tibet,"
Xinhua quoted an official as saying in a statement repeated across
Chinese state media on Saturday.

But already the protests have become an international issue in relation
to Beijing's Games, which China hopes will showcase its economic
progress and social harmony.

Asked whether he thought the unrest in Tibet would affect the torch
relay, Sun Weide, spokesman for the Beijing Organising Committee for the
Olympic Games, said no.

"The preparations for the Torch relay in Tibet and taking the flame up
Mount Qomolangma have been progressing smoothly," he said. Mount
Qomolangma is better known as Mount Everest.

(Additional reporting by Guo Shipeng, Nick Mulvenney and Ben Blanchard
in Beijing, John Ruwitch in Chengdu and Sophie Taylor in Shanghai;
Editing by Nick Macfie and Jerry Norton)
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